Eating mustard greens in spring and fall is a time-honored Southern tradition. Loaded with Vitamins A and C, the nutritious greens reach full size just 4 to 6 weeks after sowing.
Two types of mustard are widely grown. Curly-leafed mustard has leaves with crinkled edges; they take some time to clean, as grit tends to collect in the crinkles. Smooth-leafed mustard (also called tendergreen mustard or mustard spinach) has smooth, dark green leaves. It matures earlier than the curly-leafed type and is more tolerant of warm, dry weather. Use young leaves of either as a salad green; older leaves can be cooked like spinach.
For spring harvests, sow seed 2 to 4 weeks before the expected last frost. A single spring planting will produce until plants bolt (go to seed) after the onset of warm weather. To extend the harvest, make a second planting 2 to 3 weeks after the first. For fall harvests, sow in late summer or early fall. A light frost will sweeten the greens' flavor.
Recommended curly-leafed selections include 'Green Wave' (heat tolerant; slow to bolt; 45 days), 'Old Fashioned Ragged Edge' (Southern heirloom with excellent flavor; early to bolt; 42 days), and 'Southern Giant Curled' (large, bright green leaves; slow to bolt; 45 days). Recommended smooth-leafed mustards include 'Florida Broadleaf' (very large leaves; slow to bolt; 47 days), 'Red Giant' (beautiful reddish purple leaves; slow to bolt; 43 days), 'Savannah' (large, deep green leaves; mild flavor; very early; slow to bolt; 20 days), and 'Tatsoi' (pretty, dark green rosettes, mild flavor, cold hardy; 43 days).
From an ornamental perspective, mustard is one of the greens used in winter flower gardens. Selections with especially attractive foliage include 'Garnet Giant' (deep purple, rounded leaves), 'Golden Streak' (bright green with lacy foliage), 'Green Wave', 'Mizuna Purple' (purple stem with serrated foliage), 'Mizuna Red Streak' (fringed purple and green leaves), 'Red Giant', 'Red Mizuna' (lobed leaf with green and red foliage), 'Ruby Streak' (lacy thread-shaped leaves from green to maroon), 'Scarlet Frill' (lacy scarlet leaves), 'Spicy Green' (frilly green leaves), and 'Wasabina' (extremely wavy lime-green leaves).
Mustard is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. You can start from transplants, but direct seeding is easier. Before planting, work into the soil either 14 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 10 ft. of row or a 2-in. layer of compost. Sow seeds thinly in rows spaced 2 ft. apart or broadcast the seeds over a wide bed. Cover with 12 in. of soil. Thin seedlings to 48 in. apart (thinnings can be eaten cooked as a vegetable or fresh in salads). Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the growing season. Three to four weeks after planting, sprinkle 10-10-10 fertilizer around base of plants at the rate of 14 cup per 10 ft. of row; water it in. To harvest, break off outer leaves when they are 45 in. long; let inner ones continue to grow. Once the plants flower, the leaves will develop a strong, peppery flavor.